“My soul was not at peace with God.” Edward Norton’s beautifully realized neo-noir, “Motherless Brooklyn,” wrestles with this condition throughout its duration. His hero is an unlikely gumshoe with Tourette’s syndrome, compelled to solve a mystery and avenge a loss, and Norton’s warm, compassionate performance brings the soul to this wonderful film.
He also wrote, produced and directed it and the piece burns with the quiet fire and emotionally all-in stakes of a real auteur passion project. It’s both gorgeous to watch and a treasure to listen to. And take it from me, as someone who has made a career performing in the thing he writes while directing the rest of the band and producing the sound too … it ain’t easy to wear all those hats and make it all come together, but he pulls off that rarest of tricks. Time and place are meticulously rendered by Dick Pope’s stunning cinematography, and the score and music are inspirationally handled by Daniel Pemberton, who brings the noir with the assistance of the Miles Davis-in-the-’50s trumpet stylings of Wynton Marsalis.
And big questions are at the heart of Ed’s film. In great noir, of course, nothing is ever as it seems and the hand that holds the puppet strings is never far out of view. But in “Motherless Brooklyn” there’s more: poor and minority neighborhoods are being bought up, demolished and gentrified, forcing out their tenants. Does the city belong to the people who live in it or the powers that be? Who gets to make that decision? Lionel eventually finds the answers he’s looking for but then as now, history repeats itself, power corrupts and people get played like pawns … unless someone steps up.
“Look at you Motherless Brooklyn. You got no one looking out for you.” As the film says, we all need someone looking out for us and this is where Lionel finds his place and brings us our redemption. By the end, “Motherless Brooklyn” finds its way down this thorny path and through the dark. So does our protagonist, leaving us with just enough hope to face the dawn.
Bruce Springsteen co-directed the 2019 film “Western Stars.”